For years there has been buzz about a giant iPad. An iPad that could take on the Surface tablet (which loves to point out how it beats the Macbook Air in side-by-side commercials). An iPad that would finally be as much about content creation as it is about content consumption. An iPad to rule them all. In September those rumors proved true, when Apple announced the iPad Pro. A gigantic iPad with a screen size of nearly 13 inches. With increased processing power, and all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a $1000 laptop (with similar price tag). For months the only people who could tell us anything were people in the tech review industry (i.e. tech geeks) and Apple itself (um…conflict of interest). But last week I finally got my hands on one. I’ve had it for about 5 days, and these are my first impressions.
It’s an iPad
Let’s get this out of the way first thing. Yes, it’s a huge iPad. It looks like some mad scientist zapped the old iPad with some type of engorgement ray. Partnered with the classic “smart cover” the device looks pretty ridiculous at first glance. It’s just a big iPad. What good is that? I asked myself that question immediately after getting it into my hands. Sure, it’s a very nice iPad. It’s modeled after the current line of iPad Air 2. That means it’s super thin, very light, and has nice features like touch ID and improved cameras. While some apps have already been optimized for the larger screen, the vast majority of applications are just larger versions of their iPad Air counterparts. I’m reminded of the time when the first iPad came out and all of its apps were just iPhone apps blown up. Things are much better here, going from “little iPad” to “big iPad” but the comparison is worth noting. And just like what happened back then, the apps for iPad Pro will soon take on a life of their own, as developers start taking advantage of that massive 12.7 inch screen; not to mention taking advantage of the multitasking feature (also available on iPad Air 2) and the new Apple Pencil (a stylus). Right now this is a big iPad, but it won’t be that for long.
It’s a Laptop
It took a couple of days to convince me of that statement. At first I didn’t see it. I’ve paired my iPad Air 2 with a bluetooth keyboard before. Heck, I’ve paired my iPad Mini with the slick Bluetooth keyboard from NewTrent, and got to pretend like I had the world’s tiniest macbook. But the iPad Pro is a different matter altogether. Unlike these previous hybrids, the iPad Pro is not pretending to be anything more than what it actually is. It’s a laptop (with a couple caveats of course). So what makes a big iPad a laptop? Let’s break it down.
Screen Size/Resolution – The first feature that easily distinguishes a laptop from a tablet PC is screen size. For comparison let’s talk smartphones. When you cross 5.5 inches in screen size, the industry stops calling it a phone, and starts calling it a “phablet”, which is a hybrid of the terms “phone” and “tablet”. Once you hit 7 inches in screen real estate the term “tablet” seems to be universal. Usually the “phone” element disappears at this screen size too. That term sticks around all the way through the current “full size tablets” like iPad Air 2, Nexus 9, and Microsoft Surface Pro 4. But tablets are getting even bigger. They are becoming laptops. Please God, don’t let their ever be a “laptab” or a “tabtop”. Most entry level laptops start at 11inches (examples). So at almost 13 inches corner to corner, the iPad has the right screen size. It should be noted that the screen resolution of the iPad Pro is on par with the Macbook Air, so check that box off as well.
Keyboard – This one is huge. Laptops have always had keyboards. Sure, many hybrid laptops these days have detachable screens, but the key function of the computer is found in its keyboard. It’s how you do everything. It’s how I’m typing this post right now (on the iPad Pro!). Email, web browsing, writing school papers, and the like. All require a good keyboard. And bluetooth keyboards are more often than not, pretty crappy. I’ve had a couple of decent ones, but even those I always know I’m going to deal with disconnection issues and battery life. For a tablet to become a laptop you need a keyboard that is literally part of the overall machine (no bluetooth, no battery charging). And Apple has done it with the iPad Pro. They introduced the new “Smart Keyboard” ($169) which connects to the iPad Pro using a new “Smart Connector” which are circles on the side of the iPad Pro that connect to 3 beads of metal on the keyboard case. I’m currently using the Logitech Create Keyboard ($150), which protects the iPad all around (the Smart Keyboard only covers the front). It’s adds twice the weight and three times the thickness, but it also makes the iPad Pro feel like a laptop (and is still the lightest laptop I’ve ever had). Finally, the keyboard must have keys that CLICK. Some might argue with me here, and perhaps the next generation will be more comfortable typing on flat surfaces, but I still need the response of the click. The feel of the button vastly improves my typing rate and minimizes my spelling errors.
Processor – Quick note, cause I know this one is super geeky. For a tablet to be a laptop, it needs to be able to work just as hard in terms of processing power. The processor is crucial to everything from how fast your applications run, how effective multitasking will be, even simply how responsive all those cool games will be. The iPad Pro has a processor on par with the Macbook Air, so again, no silver medal for the tablet this round.
It’s still missing some stuff
So I’ve made my arguments for why i consider the iPad Pro a laptop. I’d be a fool to refuse to face the gaps that are clearly there. So here is what the iPad Pro is still missing. First off, it is missing a MOUSE or TRACKPAD. Those are bold for a reason. It’s essential to have another way to interact with your screen besides your finger. But what about the Apple Pencil? The stylus could replace the mouse, right? I do think that the stylus is a great tool. I wish the iPhone 6 Plus had one. The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 has an awesome stylus. But that’s an accessory, and we are talking about the iPad Pro as a laptop. The stylus is useful but not integral to the laptop model. What is integral is either a trackpad, or option to attach a mouse. And the iPad Pro offers neither option, and that is an issue. This is particularly painful when I’m trying to edit something in a Word doc (like, say, this blog post). A trackpad/mouse would make that process much easier, and would feel like a laptop. So the iPad Pro needs something, even if it’s an over-priced bluetooth enabled trackpad to pair to it. It would be better to put
it right into the case, like the Microsoft Surface has always done! The next gap is USB support. For the iPad Pro to be a laptop it must allow for peripherals. This is where the whole mouse thing could be dealt with. But this is also where you could add some extra memory options for the woefully inadequate 32GB storage in the cheapest model. Apple seems to believe that Bluetooth/WIFI connected devices are the future, and everyone wants to store their content in the Cloud. Maybe they’ll be proven right, but for now those missing USB ports (found easily on any other competitor of this size) are going to hold some people back from believing this device could ever replace the laptop. The last thing missing are optimized apps, but those will come. I wish that the device ran a hybrid of the Macbook OS (currently El Capitan) but for now we’re stuck with iOS. But 3rd party developers seem to like making money, so I’m sure they’ll save the day sooner rather than later.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
I wanted to hate the iPad Pro. I wanted to say it’s just a big iPad. That it isn’t going to replace the laptop. But I was wrong on most of those counts. I set my Macbook aside for the past 5 days and have used this iPad Pro as my laptop exclusively, and it’s proven itself to me. I am certain that this device is just the first step towards a whole new kind of laptop. Microsoft has had the “tablet/laptop hybrid” market more or less to themselves with the Surface line of tablets. They have had a blast mocking how versatile the Surface Pro is compared to the Macbook Air. And if not for the issues that plagued those devices around Windows 8, we might be saying Microsoft redefined the field. But that playing field is starting to level out. It’s not there yet. The iPad Pro has a couple gaping holes that the competition is sure to point out right away. No trackpad!!!? No USB ports!?!?! That’s just a huge iPad and not a content creation machine!! That’s what they will say. But they would be wrong. The iPad Pro is a laptop. It’s a first gen for Apple, and it’s an indicator of something new to come. There will always be tech geeks who hate how Apple claims to do “new things” when what they are doing is hardly new. (it actually annoys me too) That will be the case for the iPad Pro as well. But Apple markets their products with greater success than any other company, and they create markets where before there were only struggling sales. They did it with the MP3 Player (iPod), then the Smartphone (iPhone); they did it with the Tablet PC (iPad), and most recently with the Smartwatch (Apple Watch). All of those markets existed before Apple introduced their products. But few can argue that those markets weren’t radically changed after Apple introduced their tech. And those revolutionized markets brought opportunities for all sorts of new products, across many companies. Apple drives me crazy a lot of the time. The company just strikes me as too arrogant and full of themselves. But they make good stuff. And the iPad Pro will go down as one of their successes. That’s my bet. Though it might also be the device that killed the Macbook Air. But, in the world of mobile tech, it’s all about change. And this change appears to be a good one.
Here are a few other reviews of the iPad Pro to check out: